Work is a word that we hear and use often. It’s the thing that we do to pay our bills, to feel productive and useful, or even just as a way of spending time.
But what does it really mean?
What does meaningful work look like for you?
The truth is, there are many different definitions of “meaningful work” out there – some people find meaning in their paid jobs while others find it through volunteering or making art.
And although these may all be fulfilling activities on their own accord, they also have something else in common: they provide meaning outside of themselves by connecting us with other people and giving us purpose.
Some jobs don’t necessarily bring meaning to the person doing them.
For example, an accountant might view their work as tedious and repetitive, but others might find meaning in it because of how important it is for running a business or managing finances correctly.
This distinction can be especially confusing when you’re young and trying to figure out what kind of career path to take (and who isn’t?), since many people will tell you that meaningful work looks like one thing while another group will say something else entirely.
The truth is though, only you can determine if a job, or the work you do, is meaningful, to you.
In this article I want to help you explore some of the common misconceptions about what meaningful work is.
Myth 1: Meaningful Work = High Salary
Many people think they have to go into a high-paying field in order to find meaning at their job.
Meaningful work isn’t limited by salary or the size of an organization but rather comes from finding satisfaction through the things YOU do, the people YOU engage with and what YOU think of your work.
There is a common misconception that jobs with high status, and by proxy high salaries, are also meaningful.
This could not be further from the truth, as meaning in work comes about by way of meaningfully contributing to something or someone greater than yourself.
Money can certainly play into many people’s ideas about what constitutes “meaningful work”, but it should never define this for you nor impact your decision making process when coming across job opportunities.
You will often hear stories of people who have made great ‘sacrifices’ in their career decisions, only to find out later that their time was well spent given how much they loved doing what they were doing professionally each day.
Myth 2: Meaningful work is a luxury
People also think meaning jobs are a nice to have and not necessary. While money is important it isn’t the only thing that will bring satisfaction in life so don’t let your job be solely based on income!
Money isn’t the only thing that brings meaning so even if you are struggling financially, don’t give up! It’s possible to find meaning in whatever job you choose.
Myth 3: Meaningful work = Saving the world
People may think meaning work is related to world changing or big impact projects. While that can be true in some cases, meaning doesn’t have to involve solving global problems, wild ideas or crazy change!
Meaningful work comes from finding joy in the little things you do – an easy way for anyone looking for meaning at their job.
Myth 4: Meaningful work = Low paying jobs
There is a common myth that meaning work means low paying jobs. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! Many people have high-paying, meaningful careers they love and are passionate about their job.
Another related popular myth is that meaningful work only refers to non-profit organizations or charities. While it’s true some of these positions can provide significant meaning, there are also plenty of opportunities in other industry sectors as well.
Myth 5: Meaningful work = No stress
In addition to myths surrounding what meaning work truly entails, there is another one around what happiness at work looks like: you cannot be stressed or unhappy if you’re engaged with your career and feel fulfilled by your daily tasks.
Many people believe that meaning and stress are inversely correlated: meaningful work is always less stressful than monotonous, meaningless jobs.
However, this isn’t the case for every job or individual.
The relationship between meaning and stress can differ depending on factors such as personality type.
For example, individuals who enjoy high levels of autonomy report higher satisfaction with their work, when it has greater connection to them, even if they have to deal with more pressure or micromanagement from supervisors during these times.
That being said, many ‘meaningful’ careers do come with a certain amount of risk and uncertainty (such as creative professions, entrepreneurship,etc), which can contribute to elevated levels of stress over time.
Myth 6:You should already know what meaningful work is for you
One of the biggest myths about meaning work is that you need to have found it by now.
Applicants are often advised not to waste time on jobs they shouldn’t apply for because there’s no meaning in them, but this only discourages people from applying for anything at all out of fear.
The point here isn’t getting your dream job right away; it’s finding meaning wherever you can and using that as motivation when working toward something better.
Every day spent doing meaningful work – even if it doesn’t seem like much in the moment – counts towards making meaning in your life. It may take months or years before you find something you feel is meaningful work for you.
Myth 7: You are too late/early to find meaning in your work
It is common for people to think that meaningful jobs only come with certain age requirements, but this myth couldn’t be more wrong!
For instance, there are many professionals who have found meaning by starting their own business or working as a freelancer after retirement, which allows them the freedom of being able to pick and choose what they want to do next on their bucket list.
Conversely, many younger people believe that meaning work is only available for those who are older and more experienced.
This myth leads young people to spend their early career pursuing financial success at the expense of meaning.
So if you’re older, or younger, than some other job seekers out there- don’t fret!
There’s no limit on how long it takes someone else before finding meaning in their professional life; everyone has different stages and milestones along their journey!
Myth 8: Finding meaningful work means no more bad days at work
Is it really that easy?
No, meaningful work doesn’t mean you will never have a bad day at work.
Work is a part of life and life can be unpredictable.
And you will most likely have a few bad days in the dream job with the dream organization with the best coworkers and boss of all time.
However, finding meaning in your career is important because the majority of people experience their job as one significant source of meaning or purpose in life.
Therefore research shows that when you are happy with your role, and if this is how you spend most of your time each week, then this has a positive effect on your overall happiness levels.
Summing it up
There is a lot of advice out there on the topic of meaning at work, but what’s right for one person may not be best-suited to another. It can depend heavily on role, industry and organizational culture and most importantly, what is important to you.
It is important to understand that meaning at work can be as individual as your values.
And if you are curious about what matters to you in meaningful work, get your Work Profile today.